Menlo Park council OKs moving food-truck event to Civic Center

Council members question why Caltrain booted event from train station lot

Off the Grid, a weekly food truck gathering at the Caltrain station parking lot in Menlo Park on Wednesday nights, has won approval of its plan to move to the city's Civic Center parking lot located off Alma Street, between the library and the Arrillaga Family Gymnasium.

The Menlo Park City Council on Oct. 11 voted 3-1-1 (with Ray Mueller opposed and Catherine Carlton abstaining) in favor of a lease agreement with Off the Grid for use of the Civic Center site. A maximum of 10 food trucks at a time would be allowed, according to the tentative lease agreement.

Separately, though, Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline said he plans to talk to Caltrain about why it terminated its lease with Off the Grid, which has operated for almost two years at the train station parking lot.

According to Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan, Caltrain's decision is based on a preservation covenant intended to protect the historic train station building.

According to Caltrain spokesperson Tasha Bartholomew, the station is listed in the "National Register of Historic Places," and Caltrain's designated "covenant keeper/reviewer" Hilda Lefebre, determined that the weekly Off the Grid events were not "appropriate under the historical covenant."

Mayor Cline says he intends to ask Caltrain why a single person's interpretation of the covenant should dictate how the space can be used. Councilwoman Carlton volunteered to act as a backup for the mayor.

"I think the request to move is not based on something I can see as a reasonable argument," she said. "Maybe I'm missing something. I'd love to have that conversation."

In the meantime, though, the food-truck gathering needs a new home, and city and Off the Grid staff have concluded that the Civic Center parking lot is the best location. The site was recommended for approval in a 4-2 vote by the Planning Commission on Sept. 12.

Other sites were considered. Closing streets or part of a downtown parking plaza were seen as disruptive to shoppers and other users.

The move comes at a bad time for Off the Grid, its business development director Ben Himlan told the council.

The operation reduces its hours in the winter, and during the rainy season, turnout is expected to drop to only 200 visitors per week, Mr. Himlan said, compared to its overall average of 500 to 600 weekly visitors. That, combined with a new location, could spell trouble for the food truck event, which relies on vendors who agree to come if they think they can meet sales expectations.

To help, the council agreed to waive the $1,500 a month rental fee in the six-month lease agreement, charging only $1 a month instead.

Ms. Carlton said she had hoped to table the lease agreement with the city and talk to Caltrain first, to see why the train-station lease was terminated.

Mr. Mueller said he opposed the move to the Civic Center because additional traffic and pedestrians could create dangerous conditions on Ravenswood Avenue. Also, he opposed the loss of parking at the Alma Street parking lot.

The lease would last six months and then be reviewed by the Planning Commission. The city has the option to terminate the lease on 30 days' notice.

Concerns about the event causing parking problems at the library were allayed by Library Director Susan Holmer, who said that Wednesdays are usually quiet evenings at the library, and that Off the Grid could attract more visitors. "More people in the library is always good," she said.

Mayor Cline recommended setting up a dropoff site for young athletes headed to the gym and setting aside some nearby parking for library patrons.

"We're flexible and we're committed to staying here, and we're committed to finding something that is a win-win," said Mr. Himlan.

There's no date set in stone for the big move yet, he said.

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6 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 14, 2016 at 10:52 am

So on top of this being a terrible location the city felt it needed to give OTG free rent?

15 people like this
Posted by MP Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Another reason to vote for Mueller.

5 people like this
Posted by what are they thinking?
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 14, 2016 at 2:42 pm

What a ridiculous precedent - to essentially give away without competitive bidding rights to use city property. And this site is in high demand. I for one totally resent that my need to park near the library or rec center is less important than catering to a for-profit company. Heads should roll. Too bad only 2 seats are up for election this year.

5 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 14, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Cat Carlton has the right idea - table it and try to sort things out with Caltrain first. Doubly so since Off the Grid doesn't touch the historic station, it uses a very non-historic parking lot.

1 person likes this
Posted by johngslater
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 14, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Many of these food trucks have generators that are huge polluters. Get 10 of these trucks together and you aren't doing your health any favors. I don't think it is good public policy to promote these trucks. When we buy a new car, thousands of dollars are spend on pollution control. Then we turn around and let cheap worn out generators produce massive amounts of pollution.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"cheap worn out generators"

And you know this because?.....

2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

SteveC is a registered user.

he doesn't He assumes and you know what happens.

2 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 15, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Caltrain's reason is unfortunate and laughable. I hope the food trucks can survive the move, although I'm not sure they will.

3 people like this
Posted by Tim Goode
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

The Library has been the sacrificial lamb for far too long. The gymnasium reduced parking and City vehicles take up another piece of parking. The gymnasium attracts many more vehicles, especially from 3:30-6:00 pm, and now with insufficient time to make a decision, the planning commission has made the decision with little public notice once again to further jeopardize the parking of library patrons. Not only will the trucks take up valuable parking for loyal patrons,they are inviting a business and its food patrons to have precedence from the Library's prime time for young people and adults after work. This decision is ridiculous.

Tim Goode

Like this comment
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:45 am

Do any of the city govt officials live in Menlo Park?? Have they seen the congestion in that parking lot during basketball and volleyball seasons?

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Feb 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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